The myths and misconceptions of Australians’ online behaviour

Australia’s digital transformation agenda is well underway in government services, and according to an Australia Post-commissioned survey in 2015, 94 per cent of Australians want all government services to be available online.

But 70 per cent still want the choice of an in-person experience while only 29 per cent of eGov users are satisfied with their experience.

This tension between the imperative of a digital age and our actual behaviour online was highlighted again in Australia Post’s new insight paper, Australia’s pathway to a digital economy.

Although 93 per cent of surveyed Australians have internet access, only 31 per cent of those surveyed are digital ‘Enthusiasts’. Even among the most digitally advanced, online service adoption is still not universal.

What’s more, ‘Socialisers’ (18 per cent of the surveyed population) primarily use the internet solely for information search or communication. ‘Pragmatics’ (25 per cent of those surveyed) are more likely to use online job or course and training searches, or use online government services if they are convenient, but are less likely to express an opinion online or make an online purchase.

These two groups (almost half of all surveyed Australians when combined) could be considered low hanging fruit for increasing online service use.

So what will it take to increase adoption of government services? The following four misconceptions will need to be addressed before the Australian government can achieve its mandate of digitising 80 per cent of its public services by 2020.

Myth #1. Online services will exclude the homeless and other vulnerable groups

While the study behind Australia’s pathway to a digital economy, conducted by BehaviourWorks Australia (BWA) at Monash University, acknowledged the issue of digital inclusion, it also found some surprising usage trends within demographic subgroups.

Indigenous and CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) groups reported a higher than average ‘daily’ use of the internet. 67 per cent of single parents reported using the internet several times a day, compared with a 60 per cent average. The study also intentionally surveyed a small group of homeless respondents via the Big Issue, and found three-quarters had a mobile device. They also used the public library and Centrelink to access the internet.

Myth #2. Improved internet access will lead to greater uptake for regional Australians

Non-users (9 per cent of Australians surveyed) were significantly more likely to live in regional or remote Australia. Even though 91 per cent of those living in regional areas reported having access, they are less likely to have the skills or attitude to do more online according to the BWA analysis.

Remote users spent less time online for almost every activity except paying bills. Habits and beliefs could potentially limit this group from accessing online education, health and other important government services. In other words, it’s not just a question of access.

Myth #3. Australians trust government with their data

Every behavioural group identified by the research had concerns about privacy and security, and this proved to be their primary barrier to engaging in more online activity.

The latest Australian Community Attitudes to Privacy survey found 83 per cent of Australians believe their privacy risks are greater when they deal with organisations online, although health providers and State and Federal Government departments recorded relatively high levels of trust at 79 per cent and 58 per cent respectively. One in six would avoid dealing with a government agency because of privacy concerns.

And while almost half of surveyed Australians say they’re comfortable with government agencies using their personal details for research or policy-making purposes, almost the same proportion (40 per cent) feel otherwise.

Ensuring trust is important, because the accuracy of the data used for policy decisions depends on it. As many as 47 per cent of the respondents reported that they may give false information to avoid sharing what they consider to be personal data, including their date of birth.

Meanwhile, government is being asked to reduce friction in service delivery between departments and agencies, though only 34 per cent of surveyed Australians say they’re comfortable with the government sharing their personal information with other government agencies.

Resolving this tension will be essential if governments wants to encourage more Australians to adopt their services online or engage with such things as the online Census or eVoting.

Myth #4. Digital government is primarily for Millennial voters

While ‘Enthusiasts’ are more likely to be younger and ‘Non-users’ are more likely to be older retirees, older Australians are embracing all things digital. 59 per cent of those surveyed aged 65 and over said they used the internet daily or several times a day, and older Australians were well represented in the ‘Socialiser’ and ‘Sampler’ groups.

However, ACMA’s 2016 research highlighted that older Australians are less likely to access government services, health and medical information online, compared with their UK and US counterparts.

The concept of a digital divide is clearly not a binary definition. The complex behaviours behind our online usage draw on issues of access (which includes cost concerns), skill (which includes perceived confidence) and attitude.

For those who rarely use the internet, the number one reason is ‘they’re just not interested’. And these deeply held beliefs might be harder to change.

Learn more about the demographics of our online behaviour in Australia’s pathway to a digital economy.

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